“The budget discussion was blunt,” Persson said as he left after the first session of talks on the EU’s 2007-2013 budget.
“There seems to be huge differences, and there are, but every one of us realise that if we don’t have a deal now it will not be easy next year,” he added.
“Now we are going into final negotiations, it will be hard,” he said, giving a “50/50” chance for a deal when talks resume on Friday.
The two-day summit has quickly turned into a classic EU haggle as member states argue over who pays and gets what from the bloc’s collective pot.
Despite the deep divisions between member states, there was nonetheless a general sense for the urgency of getting an agreement.
“I think that everyone understands that we have to have a deal”, Finnish President Tarja Halonen said as she left.
EU leaders are to get an early start to the talks on Friday and try to reach an agreement over the course of the day because the EU’s British presidency has insisted the discussion should not drag into a third day.
“I think that tomorrow will be a long day, the preliminary work was done tonight,” said Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern.
“We will get into … bilaterals very early in the morning,” he added.
The intense wrangling centres on proposals from the British EU presidency which have been fiercely criticised by other member states for failing to give more ground on London’s treasured rebate.
“Now it’s up to the presidency to work on its proposals,” said Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende.